November brings a real winter chill, and you may catch the scent of bonfires in the air as mistletoe and holly berries ripen in the trees. Here are some gardening tasks to keep you warm before you dive indoors for a heartening bowl of soup………..
TOO TOO TULIPS!
November is the best time to plant tulip bulbs. The soil is now much cooler than in the early autumn and this lowering of the temperature reduces the risk of your bulbs developing the fungal disease called Tulip Fire. I have found that only species tulips like T.sylvestris, sprengeri or acuminata are reliably perennial with me, but who can resist buying a few gorgeous tulips each year to brighten the spring, even if most are for one year only?!
Tulips grow best in sunny or lightly-shaded areas, but do avoid wet spots – the bulbs are horribly likely to rot off in very damp soil. Loosen the soil with a trowel or a garden fork. You’ll need to dig a hole 6-8 inches deeper than the base of the bulb (ie a bulb 2 inches long would need a hole 8-10 inches deep). Put in the bulb pointy-end up, and I like to add some gravel around the bulb too for extra drainage and a deterrent against pesky squirrels digging them up! Refill the hole with soil and water gently.
ROOTING FOR YOU
How about trying some root-cuttings? It’s a very good way of making more plants of things like Echinops, Acanthus, Crambe, Romneya, Verbascum, Phlox, Primula denticulata – lots of lovely things. It’s a particularly easy way of propagating Mint too (though round here, stopping Mint is more of a problem than propagating it!)
Dig up the parent plant and wash the roots in a bucket of water. Using a sharp clean knife, take off some thick healthy roots – each cutting should be about 2 and a half inches (5 cm) long, but thinner root-cuttings should be a bit longer. Don’t go mad and strip the whole plant, but you can usually take about a quarter of the roots without any harm coming to the parent plant. Cut horizontally across the top of each root cutting and insert it into a hole made with a pencil in a pot of damp compost. Leave the top of the cutting at or just above the soil surface. You can put several in a pot together. Alternatively, you can lay the root-pieces on a seed-tray of compost, and cover them with another half-inch of compost. Sprinkle some grit over the top, and leave the pot or seed-tray in a frost-free place over winter. Shoots should emerge in the spring, when you can separate the young plants carefully and pot them on.
This is the start of the season for buying bare-root trees, shrubs and roses – plants that have been dug from the ground at the nursery during their dormant season and sold without a pot. They are generally cheaper to buy like this and I find that as long as they have been well-grown and never allowed to dry out, these bare-rooted plants often establish more quickly than potted plants do.
As soon as you get them, unwrap the roots and soak them in a bucket of water for a couple of hours. Then it’s time for a bit of what’s called ‘formative pruning’, which will help the plant develop a good shape later and reduce the danger of windrock until the plant has anchored itself firmly in its new home. Don’t cut the main stem, or ‘leader’, of a bare-root tree or shrub, but take off any long, straggly or damaged growth, trimming any weak shoots hard, and strong shoots lightly. Also trim any very long roots which would otherwise need folding to put into the planting hole. If you can’t plant it immediately in its final position, plant it in a spare area of soil in the meantime (this is called ‘heeling in’). Giving your new shrub a little TLC now will reap dividends when it starts to grow away strongly next spring.
• If you put some apples and pears into storage after this year’s harvest, don’t forget to check them regularly, and remove any rotten ones. Remember what they say about ‘One bad apple……….’!
• November is a great time to plant or divide rhubarb. It’s a good idea to lift established clumps every four years or so, and replant just the healthy outer bits in soil improved with manure
• As long as you haven’t got little songbirds sheltering from the cold in your nestboxes, take them down and clean them out with boiling water ready for next spring’s nesting season